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How desperation and devotion can change your prayer life

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A 54-day rosary novena seems impossible, but break it up and squeeze it in ... and prepare for the results

I couldn’t help but groan. I found myself in yet another conversation with a well-intentioned woman from church who was telling me all the fruits of her very active prayer life. Thankfully, I had gotten pretty good at mastering the art of groaning internally so as to not embarrass myself. “Well, you should say a 54-day Rosary novena for that intention,” she said matter of factly. “The Mother of God never disappoints!”

I looked down to see my three-year-old eating dirt and my toddler trying to kiss (or shall I say bite) an unsuspecting victim. My eight-year-old son was screeching as my six-year-old daughter dangled his prized possession of the day just out of his reach.

“Yes, yes. I’ll have to try that,” I muttered. “Thanks so much.” I gathered my little ones and corralled them into the car.

A 54-day Rosary novena, I thought, turning the ignition as a shoe whizzed past my head. Suuuuuuure. I’ll get right on that.

This was the fourth time in the past month that I had heard the Rosary novena mentioned. To say it, you pray the Rosary each day for 27 days in petition, followed by 27 days of thanksgiving. Often called the Miraculous 54-Day Novena, the devotion began when Our Lady appeared to Fortuna Agrelli in Pompeii, Italy, in 1884. Fortuna was the young daughter of a military officer, and she was gravely ill and not expected to survive. Out of total desperation her family began to say the Rosary. The Blessed Mother then appeared to Fortuna and said, “Whoever desires to obtain favors from me should make three novenas of the prayers of the Rosary, and three novenas in thanksgiving.” Miraculously, Fortuna was later restored to perfect health.

I was familiar with the novena, having said a few in college, but now, it seemed like an unrealistic and insurmountable task. Absurd, really. “Come on,” I mused, “I work full-time, I run a household, and on top of that, I need to keep my four children alive everyday. I just could never do it.”

The truth was, I knew I needed it. In addition to my daily chaos, I was drowning in life’s worries. Earlier that week my husband was told that his division at work would be eliminated. A promised promotion at my job hadn’t gone through, and, much to my horror, even with scrimping, each month I was slowly watching our credit-card debt increase. My elderly grandmother was a shut-in and was so lonely that she repeatedly called my sister for time and temperature. My wayward brother hadn’t returned my calls for weeks, and my daughter was showing signs of extreme anxiety. I knew I needed to recommit to my prayer life. What’s more, I knew that everyone around me needed me to recommit to my prayer life.

As with every past challenge in my life, I knew peace and resolution could only come from divine intervention. And so I began to tackle the 54-day Rosary novena. Me, who hadn’t had a set prayer life since I had my first child.

Since it wasn’t realistic to find a solid 20 minutes every day, I squeezed pieces of the Rosary into whatever time slot I could find. I said a decade when I was making coffee and packing the lunches. I said another while waiting for colleagues to gather for a conference call at work. I fit one in while waiting in the pick-up line at school and said another while I was doing the dishes. For the tasks that required two hands—which, let’s face it, are most of what moms do—I would play the Rosary on YouTube, reciting each mystery with the Poor Clare Sisters or a sweet-voiced Irish priest. As the days went on, it became easier and easier. I wasn’t as much finding time for the Rosary as the Rosary was finding time for me. And slowly, without realizing it, I found myself finishing the Rosary earlier in my day and finding other prayers to accompany my mundane tasks.

As the days went on, I found that the benefits of saying the Rosary far outweighed the small sacrifice of my time. Not only did praying provide an outlet for the anxiety caused by my particular intentions, it also began to overflow into other aspects of my life. It centered me. It increased my patience with my children. It made me more productive at work and more charitable toward my neighbor.

The truth is, I am still praying for the same intentions. This novena didn’t remove any problems that I began with—yet. But it did give me blessings that I didn’t even request. So I guess for now I’ll withhold my groaning and concede that, this time, the church ladies got it right: Mary never disappoints.

Maria Garabis Davis holds a Juris Doctor degree and a BA in theology. A former youth minister and now practicing attorney, she resides in Columbus, Ohio, with her husband and four children.

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